Archive for October, 2009

12
Oct
09

Settling In

Picture 023I can’t believe this is the start of my sixth week of work. The time here blows by – working everyday from 9(ok, closer to 10) to 5 (well… more like 3:30) and then having different Connect events or going out afterwards really drains you and keeps the days busy. Its rare to have a few days with nothing to do, and even rarer to have entire weekends with nothing planned.

The last few weeks have been filled with work projects. Two weeks ago we held a holiday program for the girls in our program while they were on their spring break. The idea was to have each community have a day camp for the girls, culminating in a tournament. I organized the event, starting with a budget and moving to the actual day-by-day planning stages. The girls who have worked in the program for years aren’t very creative with what they do, and its part of the reason the organization has seen very little growth recently. They don’t think outside the box, and basically just replicate everything from the year before. Not that anything I do is revolutionary – its all basically stuff I’ve picked up from working lacrosse camps and things I remember from going to soccer and lacrosse camps as a player.

Picture 017

So I planned the week with the girls in charge of each community. On Thursday and Friday of that week I went out to the townships to document the program. The way we planned it, there was supposed to be around 60 girls broken up into 4 groups, doing soccer drills and life lessons. It looked great on paper, and I know had it been planned as such in the US it would have gone off without a hitch.

When we arrived at the field, the first thing I noticed was a cow skull. It was in the grass near the soccer field. Vuyo said that it’s a pretty normal thing to see in the townships – the people take everything they can from the cow and then leave it be, but the head is useless because their brains are too small to eat. So they leave the skull.

I gave my camera to a little girl, and this is what I found later

I gave my camera to a little girl, and this is what I found later

When we walked closer to the field we noticed that the girls playing weren’t actually girls – it was a group of boys. The girls were all sitting off to the side, huddled around each other giggling and laughing. We all exchanged looks of frustration – this was what we were afraid of. Its part of the reason this organization doesn’t exactly draw me in – the overall futility of what we’re trying to do quells any unknown desires I have to give it my all and dive in head first 100%. I don’t think it’s the organizations fault – I’m pretty sure its just the way this kind of thing works. The frustration level is astounding though. I’ve barely been here a month and already when we go out to townships I expect to find unorganized and poorly funded events.

I’m now spending the week trying to find a way to implement an MVP improvement and evaluation form. Basically the MVPs right now have no way to measure their growth over the course of the year, and have no program to make sure they’re learning new things and improving their coaching techniques. They have no method for growth, and its my goal for the week to figure out a way to get them to improve and evaluate their performances. I have meetings with them and am drafting up various forms and programs for them, we’ll see how it all goes. Its an uphill battle, but you gotta start somewhere.

More on the past weekend – I reffed a basketball game, made sandwiches for 300 kids, listened to MSU win its second straight game, and went to the beach.

This might be my favorite picture of all time

This might be my favorite picture of all time

12
Oct
09

RIP John A. Robenalt: 1922-2009

Dad, Father, Sean, Frank and I last Thanksgiving in Florida

Dad, Father, Sean, Frank and I last Thanksgiving in Florida

My grandfather, John Alton Robenalt, died last Monday night around 5 PM EST. He was 87 years old. He will be missed greatly, especially by all of his family – me included. I feel bad I wasn’t able to attend his funeral on Friday or the visitation on Thursday, but I do know I got to spend a lot of time with him, this summer especially, and so I feel like I was able to say goodbye. I wish I could have been there to see everyone, but I know I will when I get home in December.

It was strange not being with family when something like that happens, but I found little ways to reflect and honor him from here. Friday during the funeral I drove up the mountain with a few friends and we all shared a beer and a toast for Father on a beautiful spring day, with sunshine and shadows falling over the city. As we left to head back down to the city I left an unopened beer leaning against a beautiful tree on the mountainside… you’ll be missed Father. With love all the way from South Africa.

Also his obituary can be found here. He did some really cool stuff during his life, and its amazing the things you don’t learn about – especially as a grandchild – until afterwards. He definitely lived a long and full life, and we’ll all miss him. Rest in peace Father.

12
Oct
09

The Garden Route

Bungee jumping off a 711 foot bridge

Bungee jumping off a 711 foot bridge

I need to apologize for not posting for the last few weeks. Things have been pretty busy at work and I just haven’t made the time I should have to post. I promise to post more often – not that it’ll be this long or any kind of substantial post, but I’ll post more. The plan for these next few posts is kind of a blast – 3 or 4 posts about my last 3 weeks here, broken up by week. Read at your own peril – they’re long.

Anyway, two weekends ago a giant group of 19 of us took off work for a long weekend and went on the Garden Route – the typical tourist trip everyone who interns or studies here takes. It’s a scenic drive along the southern coast of Africa with stops at all kinds of tourist beach towns. I’ll just copy a rough outline I sent a good friend a few days after the trip rather than type it again – excuse the rough writing, it was a 5 minute slammed out summary, and parts of it definitely don’t meet my normal standards.

Wednesday night:

The view from the hostel at Mossel Bay

The view from the hostel at Mossel Bay

I was in Googs (a township) at a Hoops4Hope seminar for the week, and was planning on getting a ride with two girls when I was done. I had my boss drop me at the police station right off the highway, and I sat down with my book and backpack and read while I waited for the girls. I was the only white person within 10 miles, and a group of cops walked in with M16s and full tactical gear on while I was sitting on a bench outside the station. A couple of them looked at me curiously and nodded when I acknowledged them.

I rode with two girls from my program – Hannah is British and Grace is Australian, but for the life of me I can barely tell their accents apart. All the highways here, once you get out past the city, are one lane. Slow cars typically move over and let faster cars pass on the right, and occasionally a second lane pops up for a few hundred yards so people can get over safely. Hannah almost killed us trying to pass a semi on the left in one of the bonus lanes, but we lived so no harm done. She drove the whole time because her car is a stick and she rented it – everyone drives sticks here, just like in England, but none of the American kids here know how to drive them.

A couple kids rented automatics, but they’re really expensive. Also people drive on the wrong side of the road here, and the drivers seat is on the opposite side of the car too. It’s weird to change gears with your left hand. Anyway, we lived through the ride and made it to Mossel Bay, specifically to a hostel right by the beach, at like 11. We went out with everyone in this little town with one strip, and it was a pretty fun time. We all slept in big dorm room style rooms, with bunk beds and grungy mattresses.

Thursday

Picture 485I woke up at 7:45 and ran on the beach for 30 minutes. There was a cliff path up to a lighthouse and this muskrat/badger thing literally followed me up the stairs, running up rocks to watch me as I made it up each step. It was hilarious. We then left that place and drove to this place I can’t type but its something like Oodstrorn, which was more inland, with caves and nature reserves. First we went to this nature reserve where there were alligators and crocodiles and lions and tigers and hippos and wallabies and all kinds of awesome animals. We couldn’t touch them since most are dangerous but it was still cool. Picture 345

Then we went to these caves and hiked them. I did the adventure hike with Hannah and Daniel, an architect student from Canada. It was this hike through these GIANT caves – so giant Coldplay tried to have a concert in these caves a few years ago. They used to hold classical music concerts in the caves in the 70s and 80s. We made our way through the main caverns where they had concerts – these suckers were hundreds of yards long and a couple hundred feet tall, with stalactites and stalagmites all over the place in amazing formations – and made it to the little ‘adventure’ passages.

Daniel, Hannah and I at the caves

Daniel, Hannah and I at the caves

We hiked through 9 inch wide passages and up into 2 foot tall holes that you had to then scamper on your knees through a 15 foot long tunnel that was 2 feet tall. Then we had to climb up an 8 foot tall passage that was like 15 inches wide. I barely fit through half the tunnels, and I wasn’t the biggest guy in the group by a long shot. Then we had to slide on our bellies through an 8 foot long tunnel and then go down a 5 foot rock slide headfirst. Humidity in the caves was around 85%, and by the end of the climbing and scampering we were all sweaty and pretty grungy. Afterwards we went to this restaurant in the town, where I ordered an ostrich alfredo pasta dish. Ostrich meat is like beef with a tiny bit of chicken mixed in – very delicious and not too expensive. Going to dinner with 19 people is an adventure – particularly when the bill comes – but it was a fun night.

Friday

This was one of the most ridiculous things I've ever done

This was one of the most ridiculous things I've ever done

I woke up at 7:45 again and went for another run through this little town with amazing views – mountains in the distance and barren African landscape in the front. Then we went to an ostrich farm, where there were ostriches everywhere. Did you know you can stand on ostrich eggs. Picture 454They’re the same amount of food as 30 regular chicken eggs, and they taste just like them. We were walking through the ostrich farm and the guide says ‘This one is mating now, you can tell by his orange beak and feet.’ And that sucker just ran over to this female literally right in front of us and proceeded to jump on top of her and take care of business. It took maybe 20 seconds of sitting on top of her and grabbing her neck while we’re all frantically trying to snap pictures and laughing hysterically, and he then he ran away. One of the funnier moments of the weekend We got to sit on them if we wanted – I’m too big to ride it, you have to be under 155 lbs cause of how skinny their legs are, but my roommate Tom rode one. It was also hysterical, awkward, and definitely worth the trip. After we left the ostrich farm, I ended up driving a car to our next stop – Plattenburg Bay, about two hours away.

I took one of the automatics, and drove on the wrong side of the road through mountain passages and over 10 mile country straight-aways and over giant bridges looking over the Indian Ocean. Basically it was the coolest drive I’ve ever done, and I was driving a mid-90s BMW on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road. We went out at this AMAZING seafood restaurant that had the best calamari I’ve ever had for $2.50$. Food here is dirt cheap, and we eat a lot of it. We all went to bed early that night because the next morning was…

Saturday

Second 4 of the 5 second free fall

Second 4 of the 5 second free fall

Bungee jumping. We woke up early and went bungee jumping at the worlds tallest commercial bungee jump. We left at 9 a.m. and went off the bridge around 10:30. The bridge spans over a valley that feeds right into the Indian Ocean. The drop is 216m – over 700 feet – and it takes 5 seconds of free fall to reach the bottom. I’ve never been more terrified in my life, but it was an absolutely amazing experience. I didn’t really think about what I was doing until I was strapped up and carried to the edge. By the time I realized I was about to jump off a bridge, I was already falling. For the first two seconds I knew I was going to die, but then reality kicked in and I had the time of my life. Its like the feeling of going down the Dragster at Cedar Point times 100 – free fall from that height is incredible. The euphoria when you get back on solid ground is incredible. I’d do it again in a heartbeat – backwards, forwards, jumping, whatever. Easily the most insane thing I’ve ever done. I still can’t get over it, almost three weeks later.

Picture 540After bungee jumping we went to a nearby monkey sanctuary. There were Ace Ventura monkeys EVERYWHERE. My roommate bought a coke can and then saw a monkey so he reached to get his camera and in the meantime another monkey ran across the room, jumped on his picnic table, grabbed the coke can, and ran into the trees to drink it. He found a spot like 30 feet up and started slamming it towards his mouth like he was trying to drink it for 15 minutes.

On this ridiculously unsafe suspension bridge at the monkey sanctuary

On this ridiculously unsafe suspension bridge at the monkey sanctuary

They pay a guy to run around the eating area with a water bottle and chase the monkeys away from people. While we were sitting there, some kid came out of the food shop and when he opened the door a monkey ran in, grabbed a candy bar from the shelf, ran out of the door and into a tree and started the eat it. The guy who was chasing them with water got really mad but the monkey was too high to get hit. It was awesome. They just ran by on the paths or hopped off trees right by us or all kinds of ridiculous shenanigans.

Just me petting an elephant

Just me petting an elephant

Afterwards we went to an elephant sanctuary. We bought food to feed them – orange and pineapple slices with some lettuce and carrots – and got to walk with them. Feeding them was amazing, their snouts are like vacuum cleaners. They ate oranges – whole – and 1/3 pieces of pineapple, skin and all. It was amazing. I was feeding this little guy(probably only 1.5 tons and 10 feet tall), his snout would suck it up and he would bring it under and put it into his mouth. They were HUGE and never satisfied with food – basically they were mini-Big Tymes. When I was feeding this one guy another one crept up behind me and put his trunk over my shoulder and tried to eat out of my hand. His trunk was just hanging out on my shoulder. We got to walk with them, even the babies. Elephants rule. Afterwards we went to the seafood place again and I got the most amazing tuna steak. Seafood and meat here are on par with the best I’ve ever had in America, and it’s all substantially cheaper than in the States.

Sunday

Petting a wallaby

Feeding a wallaby

We woke up and drove the 7 hours hom. Our car almost died an hour out of Cape Town, and we had to drive in second gear the rest of the way home. It was pretty funny – we were riding in an old, old Volkswagen hatchback. I rode home with Tom and two other guys, it was a pretty boring ride but I did manage to finish The Forever War by Dexter Filkins – a New York Times correspondent who was embedded in Iraq and Afghanistan for about 10 years. I’d highly recommend it, one of the best books I’ve read in years. More about the last two weeks in the next post – sorry for the crazy length of this one!